In Conversation with Director Hans Peter Moland and Lead Actor Stellan Skarsgård
A hoarse and bellowing chuckle rumbles deeply and gutturally from the belly of Swedish
actor Stellan Skarsgård. It's not the kind of bellowing laughter one might expect from a
man who has just delivered his finest performance as a tormented and murderous fur trapper
in Zero Kelvin. With a heart of stone and driven to extremes, Skarsgård's
character Randbaek - whilst holed up inside a claustrophobic cabin with a poet and a
scientist and with glacial sub-zero temperatures outside the door - is the epitome of
Skarsgård, a swarthy, bear of a man is in good spirits this overcast and gloomy
Copenhagen morning. He is full of mirth and glee at the reaction he has caused with his
stunning portrayal in a film that is sparse, haunting, ambient and brutal.
"It was a very rewarding part because Randbaek could do almost anything," he
roars. "There were no limits to him and it was very hard to over-act him. But, of
course, to a certain extent it was physically demanding working in Spitzbergen under the
conditions that we worked. I really enjoyed it because it's so nice to play such an
asshole. It is funny. I have tried to do as many different parts as possible. The one I
have just completed is Breaking The Waves and we won an award in Cannes -
it's very good, but quite different. I played Raoul Wallenberg in a film called Good
Evening Mr Wallenberg which is a very nice character, and one film, which I think was
also shown in Australia was the Simple Minded Murderer where I played a
Zero Kelvin scooped Best Film - Norwegian Film Festival 1996, Most Popular
Film: First Runner Up Sydney Film Festival 1996, Best Director - Cancun Film Festival 1995
and Best Actor - San Sebastian Film Festival 1995. Adapted from the novel by Danish author
Peter Tutein, Zero Kelvin is a harrowing, rugged and breathtaking 1920s Nordic
thriller that traces the story of three fur trappers who are left in complete isolation on
the frozen wastelands of Greenland.
According to Skarsgård, he was first attracted to the infinite possibilities of his
character who becomes the emotional protagonist and catalyst of violence.
"The possibilities to expand in different directions in terms of making him
unbelievably terrible, ugly and filthy, and yet at the same time, I tried to make him
humane in a certain sense. To give him another dimension so that you might - for a second
- understand him."
Director Hans Petter Moland, who still craves the danger and the isolation of the
environment in which they shot Zero Kelvin, agrees wholeheartedly with
Skarsgård's observations. Ironically though, this was a film that he almost never made.
"The thing that first attracted me to the Tutein novel was that it was a good
read. He had a great sense of humour, very morbid and very gallows. It also makes you feel
that this man really lived through this experience. But I was actually very hesitant about
doing it initially. It was my producer Bent Rognlien who insisted because he thought there
was great potential for drama. He also knew that I was the only one crazy enough to make
it. [Laughing] Two things made me hesitate. First of all, I was afraid that it was too
much theatre, that it was too hard to stage as a film and not a play. We had a
screenwriter involved and he came up with the love scene which remains an unresolved
conflict between the two men that carries on all the way to death. That convinced me that
there was more to the meanness and bickering, and a deep rooted difference between the two
people. That there is one man Larsen (Gard B. Eidsvold) who believes in love and has all
of the good virtues of mankind and civilisation, pitted against Randbaek, this
chauvinistic animal who rejects love and is nothing more than lust in disguise."
Zero Kelvin is Moland's second feature film and sits in stark contrast to his
debut prize-winning film, The Last Lieutenant and his successful works as
a director/producer of short films and music videos for people like Paul MacCartney, Pat
Benetar and Michael Jackson. But, it also seems the most rewarding.
He describes the physical realities of making this film like embarking on "an
expedition" and, is quick to point out that his first priority was finding actors who
he felt could embody the kind of raw passion and danger that would have been able to
survive such extreme surroundings. "I had always wanted to work with Stellen
Skarsgård ever since I saw him in The Single Minded Murderer, and against
him I needed an actor to play Holm. Somebody who was capable of playing such a vague role
with enough strength and authority. So I had to convince Bjorn Sundquist, and he only
accepted it because he was playing opposite very good actors.
"I think he would have liked to have played Randbaek," he grins, "and he is
quite capable of it. He is known in Norway as a dangerous and malicious man on the screen.
But I made him 48 lbs heavier and I made him shave his head... Gard, on the other hand
needed to be able to travel from being a very innocent and hopeful young man to one that
is capable of murder. It is easy to find men in their early 20s who are believable as
innocent, than it is to find somebody who is believable as a nutter. To be very concrete,
there were moments when I had to be vicious when I was casting and it was then that I
realised that Gard had it in him."
Stellan Skarsgård, who has appeared in less physically strenuous cinematic landscapes
such as The Unbearable Lightness Of Being, Coq Rouge, The
Women On The Roof, and The Hunt For Red October, smiles at
Moland's passion and verve: "Moland is very interesting," he gestures,
"because he had a theatre background and in some senses he really likes to get out
into the wilderness and live the kind of macho life.
"But, at the same time he is so sensible and not denying the complications within
man, and the softness within man, and that makes the difference. The film could very well
have been a real boy's story. But I don't think it did. It has enough interesting
psychology to be at least as attractive to women as it is men. It is a film that I am very
proud of ..."
[I Magazine - Australian]